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Why intellectual property is important

Whether you’re a start-up or a family business that’s been trading for generations, recognising and protecting your intellectual property (IP) is critical to growth, protecting what’s yours and maintaining a good reputation.

IP is about protecting the time, money and effort you put into your business. By taking even some basic steps you can:

  • protect what’s yours
  • translate your hard work and ingenuity into profitable returns
  • set yourself up for growth or market expansion
  • keep competitors away
  • ensure you’re not infringing on others’ rights
  • prevent employees from helping your competitors
  • attract investors
  • promote your business to investors, licensees or potential buyers.
An IP portfolio can really help attract investors and shows you are  confident in managing these assets.

An IP portfolio can really help attract investors and shows you are confident in managing these assets.

Increase your IP knowledge

IP protection can often seem challenging to small businesses because:

  • it’s unfamiliar
  • they feel it’s only for bigger companies
  • they don’t know all the types of IP actions available to them.


You can also identify your IP with our checklist and pick up easy protection tips along the way.

Don’t launch any website about your business before you’ve taken steps to protect your IP.

Don’t launch any website about your business before you’ve taken steps to protect your IP.

If you don’t first protect yourself, you’ll be telling the world about your great idea or product and it might be copied.

Case study

Case study

IP advisor turns backer

When a Kiwi designer came up with a new type of baggage system, he recognised its IP worth. Even though he didn’t know where to start with IP protection, an expert advisor saw his invention’s potential and invested in it. 

The advisor’s efforts also helped to attract additional capital. In all, the designer received $1.2 million in funding and $50,000 worth of free IP help. Among other things, this was used to get a patent and protect his invention.

Today the technology’s IP is being leased to European companies for new applications, with interest also growing in the United States. The company has since grown to 10 employees and continues to find new applications and markets for its invention.

Some of the easier ways to increase your IP knowledge

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  • checking if your intended business name is already in use with our ONECheck tool


  • talking to your business industry group
  • chatting with your accountant or business mentor
  • asking your local chamber of commerce for IP support
  • looking at what your competitors (or potential business partners) are already doing about their IP
  • checking the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) website for information on different types of IP

Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand(external link) — IPONZ

  • attracting IP-savvy board members (if you’ve got a board or other governance structure)
  • pairing up with an advisor through the Regional Business Partner Network

Regional Business Partner Network

  • reading articles or blogs about IP, such as New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s piece on why you should think about IP early on

Why you should think about IP early on(external link) — New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

  • contacting Callaghan Innovation, if you're involved in research and development or undertaking innovation projects – its Beyond IP programme co-funds workshops and other assistance

Beyond IP programme(external link) — Callaghan Innovation

  • getting help from a start-up incubator, such as AstroLab, Powerhouse or WNT Ventures, or one of Icehouse’s start-up programmes.

Icehouse’s start-up programmes(external link) — Icehouse Ventures

You’ve worked hard to create your business, idea or product so it’s in your interests to make sure your IP works for you – both now and in the future.

Case study

Case study

Time and materials

Construction worker Hemi has come up with an idea for an improved safety harness. He clears it with the foreman to use the company workshop outside work hours to make a prototype.

Unfortunately, the details of this arrangement aren’t fully discussed and documented with his boss, which leads to problems around ownership of the invention.

In the end, they negotiate a settlement — Hemi has to compensate his employer for the power usage, equipment hire and supplies used.

Common mistakes

Common mistakes

The reality for many small businesses is that IP is either not on their radar or it has a very low priority.

Many either haven’t yet realised the value of IP, or always have a long list of other important things that need doing. However, it’s important to make time for IP because a failure to do so can put your business at risk.

Some of the most common IP pitfalls include:

  1. Telling others about your great idea before protecting it

  2. Thinking you’ve protected your business name just because you’ve registered with the Companies Office

  3. Trying to sell your invention before checking IP protection options

  4. Getting a logo, brand or website made without checking if you’re infringing on anyone else’s trade mark or copyright

  5. Expanding into new markets before thinking about IP protection — some pose greater IP risks than others

  6. Believing that registering your IP with IPONZ also protects you overseas

  7. Not putting a copyright symbol on packaging, web pages and marketing material

  8. Using pictures, music and content created by others without first checking if you can

  9. Believing you’re automatically entitled to a domain name that matches your business name

  10. Not protecting confidential information – you should clearly document with employees and contractors who owns your IP, particularly in the early stages of a business

  11. Assuming IP is always expensive to protect.

Do document any arrangement made between employers and employees not covered in the employment agreement.

Do document any arrangement made between employers and employees not covered in the employment agreement.

It’s also a good idea to try and get a patent for inventions before telling anyone else about it.

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